Stress Reduction Training for Healthy Aging Study
Humans have a basic need to be socially connected, and social connection is an important factor for healthy aging and longevity. We are conducting the first rigorous and mechanistic test of whether stress management training programs (either mindfulness meditation or relaxation and health education) can foster social connection and inflammatory health among older adults.
Mindfulness Interventions, with a Focus on Acceptance and Equanimity:
Over the last three years we have been focusing on the active ingredients underlying mindfulness intervention effects— one particular area we are developing is the role of learning acceptance and equanimity skills. These skills help individuals learn how to relate to difficult or unpleasant experiences, and we think are a key to fostering stress resilience and health. You might check out some of our papers on this topic here. One area of current interest is how these skills can be taught and how they impact emotion regulation processes.
Life at CMU Study
The primary goal of the Life@CMU study is to identify and gain a deeper understanding of the psychological, social, and institutional factors that affect students’ overall health and academic success. We are observing the day-to-day experiences of first-year students throughout their first semester using Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA). Participants report on current activities, social interactions, stress and traumatic experiences, mood, coping strategies, and health behaviors. Using a provided Fitbit and a mobile context AWARE app, participants also recorded continuous passive sensing measures of activity, sleep, location, and smartphone use behaviors during the entire semester. This important data on how CMU students work, eat, sleep, study, socialize, and live during their time here will provide important insights into the student life experience.
There has been tremendous growth and interest in smartphone mindfulness programs, and Headspace is the most popular smartphone app worldwide. We are conducting a new study of Headspace in the workplace, exploring how this mindfulness training program changes the brain, health, and one’s work.
The Adversity Project
While we know a great deal about how stress can increase our susceptibility to a broad range of health problems, we know much less about what makes people resilient under stress. In fact, the modal response to life adversity is one of resilience. We are conducting a large qualitative interview study exploring how people respond to adversity, and coding these interviews for cross-cutting themes. We are exploring stress-buffering factors such as social connections, mindset, meaning, mindfulness, coping flexibility, and early life factors across a variety of adversity experiences in these rich interviews.
Stress Management Strategies
We conduct laboratory and field studies of stress management strategies, such as self-affirmation, cognitive reappraisal, and rewards. One area of continued active interest focuses on the stress buffering and brain mechanisms of self-affirmation (along with new plans to conduct a randomized controlled trial of self-affirmation writing in breast cancer survivors)